February 10, 2018 10:02:29 PM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
Starkville aldermen are moving closer to finalizing the details of a proposed leisure district that would allow patrons to use "go cups" to leave restaurants with alcohol.
Aldermen discussed the details of a draft of the ordinance during a work session on Friday. Under the proposed ordinance, restaurants within the district could sell patrons city approved plastic cups that are no larger than 16 ounces to take drinks with them when they leave restaurant premises.
The ordinance limits cups to one per patron, and ensures no one can enter a licensed restaurant with alcohol, whether purchased at that restaurant or elsewhere. It also forbids patrons from coming into the district with alcohol that wasn't purchased at a restaurant within the district or carrying an open container that isn't one of the city approved cups.
During the meeting, aldermen set the district's boundaries along Main Street and University Drive, from city hall to the pedestrian bridge that crosses Highway 12 onto Mississippi State University's campus.
The proposed ordinance, which aldermen will further discuss at another work session on Feb. 16, is set for a 90-day "trial run," and limits the hours people can use go cups in the district from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
It also requires participating restaurants have maps of the district at all exits, along with city-approved garbage containers for the go cups. The district will also have trash receptacles and signage to mark its boundaries.
Aldermen will likely call for a set of public hearings on the ordinance at the board's Feb. 20 meeting.
The city is following in the footsteps of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which created an entertainment district on a test run in September. The ordinance in Tuscaloosa was originally limited to Friday and Saturday, before expanding to include more days. Tuscaloosa is now considering a permanent implementation of the ordinance.
Aldermen's discussion on Friday touched on a number of areas, from how to best identify the go cups -- or possibly using armbands -- to how other cities that have created leisure districts have fared.
Police Chief Frank Nichols, when asked during the meeting, said he's reached out to the chief of police in Gulfport to get an idea of what to expect, should the ordinance go into effect. He believes the ordinance won't have a major impact on SPD's enforcement efforts.
"I talked with the chief in Gulfport -- they have the go cup ordinance down there -- and he said it hasn't affected them whatsoever," Nichols said. "I don't believe it's going to affect us whatsoever."
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver suggested using arm bands instead of, or in combination with, cups because they'd be harder to store at home and sneak into the district. He said arm bands could help prevent underage drinking compared to cups, which could be shared.
"I'd be willing to bet that everybody here, if you open up your cabinet, you've got 20 Newk's cups and 20 from Bulldog Burger," Carver said. "That's what's going to happen.
"They're gonna have to buy a drink to get a band, period," he added. "That's a way to curb underage drinking. Just think about it--they're not going to be able to go down there and get a band unless they're drinking age. If not, somebody could just open a cabinet up."
Aldermen eventually settled on using clear plastic cups, which are less likely to be kept than nicer cups, and either stickers or a date indicator to identify them as go cups.
Nichols also pointed out the officers can still check anyone with a go cup they suspect might be underage.
Ward 5 Aldermen Patrick Miller said he understood the concerns raised at the meeting, and wanted the city to do its best to address them. However, he said, people he'd talked to in other Mississippi cities that have implemented the districts have said they've been successful.
"Every single person I've talked to has said there were obviously some concerns with these similar questions, but every person I've talked to has said, 'Man it's been a huge success in our city,'" Miller said. "It's accomplished what it's meant to accomplish."
Gulfport and Ocean Springs have implemented districts, while other cities such as Meridian and Tupelo are considering them. Nichols said he got a call from Oxford asking about what policies Starkville is setting for its district.
Ward 5 Alderman David Little said Starkville's college population presents a unique challenge.
"We're unique in that the other cities that have passed this do not have the student issue that we've got in close proximity to campus," Little said. "That's the wild card. If anyone's gonna manipulate it and try to skirt around it, it's college kids. We've all been in college and I've got college kids -- if you can skirt around something, they're gonna do it."
Mayor Lynn Spruill said after the meeting she felt the board made good progress in working out the ordinance. She said the city will do more research into cup markers and reach out to restaurants for feedback before the next work session.
"I think the plastic cup with the sticker and/or the plastic cup with the date on it is the perfect way to go about it," Spruill said. "Everyone seems to be comfortable with a trial run of the hours and a trial run of the area. I think that's great progress."
'Just another whiskey bill'
Ward 6 Aldermen Roy A. Perkins told The Dispatch he's strongly opposed to the leisure district, which he described as a "liberal" ordinance.
Perkins said he didn't want to allow people to carry drinks by churches or businesses, and wondered where the city's expansion in alcohol allowances would stop--especially after the board approved expanded alcohol sale hours in September.
"I am not in favor of drinking in the streets," he said. "I am not in favor of drinking on the streets. We are not New Orleans. We are not Bourbon Street. This leisure and recreational district will, in my opinion, perhaps allow the city to become a Bourbon Street. When is this going to come to a stop?"
Perkins, who has consistently opposed loosening alcohol laws in Starkville, said he was concerned a leisure district could lead to more crime in the city and place added strain on Starkville police. He said he felt the risks outweigh any potential economic benefit from the leisure district.
"This is just another whiskey bill that the people want, and they just want to drink in the streets," Perkins said. "If you keep approving these liberal ordinances they're going to continue to drink. If they have not gotten enough when they leave the bar or the restaurant, go home and finish your drinking."